Is health & safety really all that complicated?

Show notes (summary)

Some people make health and safety sound complicated. However, our guest Teresa Budworth explains how it doesn’t have to be the burdensome and bureaucratic thing it’s often made out to be. Teresa also reveals why dressing up as a sugar-cube in a village hall can be a dangerous thing! Listen in and find out more!

Transcript: Season 1 / Episode 15

Johnny Thomson 00:00
Hello and welcome to The Village Halls Podcast sponsored by Allied Westminster, the UK is largest specialist provider of village hall insurance and the home of VillageGuard. Now, we all know that all kinds of wonderful activities take place up and down the country in village, church and community halls. Dance classes, sports, market days, musical performances, weddings and of course cake making. Let’s not forget the fabulous cakes. But, and sorry for spoiling the party here, all activities carry with them some kind of risk, whether it’s to someone’s health or to their safety. Which is why I’m delighted to be joined by health and safety expert to Teresa Budworth today, who’s going to help us understand that health and safety might not always be the burdensome and bureaucratic thing that were often led to believe it is! How are you, Theresa?

Teresa Budworth 00:52
I’m great, thank you, Johnny. It’s good to be speaking to you again.

Johnny Thomson 00:54
Yeah, brilliant. I mentioned you’re a health and safety expert and I should have mentioned fire safety as well, of course. So, before we get into the nitty gritty, tell me a little bit about your background.

Teresa Budworth 01:05
So, I have had quite a long career in health and safety. I retired my full time health and safety role after 40 years. I started out with a doing a degree in health and safety, which was quite unusual at the time. And I retired as Chief Executive of Nebosh, which is the largest global provider of qualifications in health and safety. Since then, I’ve been focused on non-exec roles. So currently, I’m chair of the Chief Fire Officers Association, which is the charity board working with the National Fire Chiefs Council.

Johnny Thomson 01:40
Brilliant. And it’s also fair to say that you’re no stranger to a village hall either are you? Tell me about what else you’re up to right now.

Teresa Budworth 01:48
Okay. Actually, I was in our village hall last night. And it was absolutely fantastic to be there, actually, because I work with a local drama group. And actually, that was one of the best things about moving to this village is that within a matter of weeks of moving here seven years ago, without knowing a soul, you have a look at what’s going on and oh, there’s a drama group that meets in the village hall. So I joined them three weeks in and I’ve made some of my best friends there. So currently, we’re rehearsing for, we’re doing Taming of the Shrew in an open air performance, actually, at bank holiday weekend. So last night, I was rehearsing in the village hall for my scenes in that.

Johnny Thomson 02:32
Excellent. So that’s what, the bank holiday at the end of August, yeah?

Teresa Budworth 02:35
Yeah, that’s right. Looking forward to it.

Johnny Thomson 02:38
Wonderful. Now, Theresa and I actually know each other pretty well. And so just to prove that accidents can happen Teresa, remind me what happened to you once, one time with one of your performances?

Teresa Budworth 02:51
Yeah. This was in my previous drama group actually, it was a few years ago. I mean one of the things about village halls and their stages is often they’re quite small. So what drama groups and performance groups tend to do is to build out the front of the apron using blocks. So we were in a village hall, which was not a home one, and it had a curved apron in front of it. So when we put our blocks in front of it, they left wedge shaped gaps. So it was a comedy sketch show. And at the time, I was dressed as a sugar cube, which meant I was wearing a large white box with just a head poking out the top and my legs poking out the bottom. And that the premise of the sketch was it all went horribly wrong and I had to kind of back off stage looking very embarrassed, except that I accidentally stepped into one of the wedge shaped holes. And basically, I disappeared down the hole and the sugar cube stayed on stage. So slightly painful, but I think it was very funny for the audience.

Johnny Thomson 03:56
Yeah, yeah. Brilliant. And thanks for sharing that with us. I mean as somebody who basically headed up the world’s best known health safety qualification board, with professionals all over the world holding that qualification and I’ve been prepared to admit that I think is fantastic. So we’ve established you as both a health and safety expert and a normal accident prone person, just like the rest of us. So anyway, let’s talk about keeping things safe around village halls. And to begin with, I mentioned in my introduction, that health and safety can sometimes be seen as incredibly bureaucratic and just a bit of a hassle. But it shouldn’t be seen that way, should it?

Teresa Budworth 04:37
No, I don’t think so. I mean, I think that there is a reputation for it. And I think sometimes when people are not clear on what they’re doing, they can actually get quite frightened by misinformation about it. I mean, for example, a friend of mine was head teacher at a primary school, and she was told she had to do a working at height assessment anytime somebody was higher than kerb height. And that’s nonsense. Of course, you don’t have to do that. So, I mean, it can be fairly simple. And if the risk is fairly straightforward and well controlled, you know, there’s not really a lot of paperwork that you need to do about it. If, if any at all. I mean, I also think that sometimes health and safety is used as an excuse to just not do things. Yeah. So for example, a well known supermarket, I asked them if they debone and a piece of meat I was buying at the butcher’s counter, and they went, oh, no, we can’t do that for health and safety reasons. And I went, there’s no health and safety rule, which stops butchers being butchers. And they went oh, well, we’re not butchers and you go, okay. Well, that’s the reason, it’s not health and safety, it’s just that you’re not trained to do that actual job. But health and safety got the blame.

Johnny Thomson 05:46
Yeah. And I think we’ve seen that in the media, haven’t we quite often with this kind of conkers in schools and conkers-bonkers stuff, where as you say, it’s either people who aren’t well versed in health and safety that are taking it too far and it gets a bad reputation from that. Or it’s really just because they don’t want the kids playing conkers or, as you say, there’s an issue there, something else that they just don’t want to do. And then it’s the perfect, it’s a perfect excuse. So what’s health and safety and fire safety really all about Theresa?

Teresa Budworth 06:24
It’s about sensible approaches to the activities that you’re carrying out. And just looking at, and having some forethought about about what you’re doing, what could possibly go wrong, and what you’re actually going to put in place to stop it. Stop it going wrong. It hasn’t, doesn’t have to be very, very complicated. I mean, I suppose in terms of village halls, there’s two aspects to it. First of all, of course, there’s the committee that looks after the village hall that are responsible for ensuring that the premises are okay. And then secondly, there’s also the people that are going to be using it and what they’re actually going to be doing in the village hall, which could create problems. So I suppose if we looked at the first one, first of all, I mean breaking it down into its simplest elements, I suppose the real things that you have to think about is, first of all, that access around the village hall and the flooring So the condition of the car park, the condition of corridors, flooring, and lighting where people are like to be walking. And what you’re aiming to do there is just to minimise the risks of people falling over. And of course, often, many of the people using a village hall will have mobility issues in themselves. So it’s about just thinking through. Is the condition of this such that it’s going to cause somebody to trip. And if there is a problem, getting it repaired and sorted out as soon as possible. And then also on the premises front, just thinking about things like your electricity and your gas supply. Just making sure that gas appliances are serviced regularly and your electricity installation is also inspected at regular intervals. That might just be every five years and stays in good condition. And any portable appliances that are used, for example, by people doing the cleaning, or wall heaters for hot water for cups of tea, always important in a village hall. Just that they’re just visually inspected regularly and inspected perhaps once a year, just to make sure that they remain in good condition.

Johnny Thomson 08:34
Yeah, I guess people can get blinded by the terminology as well can’t they, because I’m just listening to you and basically what you’re describing is this phrase risk assessment. And people hear that. And I think sometimes they think it has to be a kind of 10 page document that goes into all kinds of detail and so on. But it’s not it’s just that process that you’ve just described, isn’t it? Like you said, you know, just just to have a look around to see whether there is anything that could possibly cause somebody some harm and making sure that something reasonable is done about it, yeah?

Teresa Budworth 09:04
Yeah, the people know what to do, like, for example, taking the electrical apperatus out of use, until they can be repaired. I suppose the final thing really, for the kind of premises side would be about storage of materials and fire risks as well. And the two are linked. Just making sure that storage doesn’t block fire escape routes that they’re available. And that whatever is stored there as stored safely away that it’s not going to you know, fall on users. And particularly thinking about, well who is going to be using it. Often you get playgroups using a village hall or parent and toddler groups. So you need to think about what are you going to leave out in the space that you know, if you’ve ever had a toddler you know what they could get into in the two seconds your back’s turned. So just thinking about that really.

Johnny Thomson 09:56
And what about document stuff because, I know there’s laws around this and remind me it’s five employees or more or something, isn’t it that you have to actually write things down?

Teresa Budworth 10:09
Yeah. That’s, that’s what the law says. But I think good practice is that you just make a note of what your arrangements are. So, for example, even if you have maybe two or three employees, if you have somebody who’s responsible for the bookings, it might be useful to provide some guidance to ask them to just query when people make bookings, exactly what they’re going to be doing. And just making sure that they’re not going to be doing anything insane in the village hall, like indoor fireworks or something like that. So that might be useful to write it down as a prompt to the person doing the booking. And, and similarly, if you’ve got people working on cleaning, just to have something written down, so that they know, if they do find faults with any of the electrical equipment, exactly what they’ve got to do. And you know, where they store the cleaning materials. And the fact that they’ve got the cupboard should be locked, you know, going back to, if you’re being rented out to play groups, and so forth. So it can be useful to write it down. But it doesn’t need to be an excessively long document. And it’s it’s more important to focus on not, I’ve evaluated the probability of this occurring as once in every two years or whatever, that’s, that’s not the important bit. The important bit is, so what are you going to do about it? And actually, the written information should focus on that, really, what are you going to do about it?

Johnny Thomson 11:35
And it seems like it’s almost that you don’t have to think too hard about it. So you don’t have to look into detail to try and find something that’s, that’s, that’s unsafe. It’s those obvious things, like you just mentioned, indoor fireworks, and anything that kind of jumps out. And it’s quite clear, those are the things that really you have to focus in on because that’s that that’s going to be the things where there could be some serious, serious harm. Yeah?

Teresa Budworth 12:00
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, obviously, things do come up from time to time. I mean, two years ago, who’d have been thinking that village halls would have been closed for the best part of 18 months because of, because of a pandemic. And obviously, there’s their own challenges now in terms of opening up and making things Covid secure and enhanced cleaning and ventilation, i.e leaving all the doors open while you’re rehearsing and wearing masks. But yeah, I mean, there’s a lot of guidance out there for those specific issues that come up. And one great place to go is the Health and Safety Executive website. That’s They’ve got some very simple guidance there on their site about village hall safety. And you know, any other issue which which might come up. It’s, it’s a good resource, and it’s free to use to find out where to get advice on it.

Johnny Thomson 12:52
And of course, they’re always going to jump on their favourite term, was it ‘reasonably practicable’ isn’t it. That’s the one I always, always I always laugh. When I hear that I always think it doesn’t exactly slip off the tongue does it? But it’s just about doing things that are sensible and proportionate, isn’t it?

Teresa Budworth 13:05
Absolutely. I mean, if you took it to its extreme, you go, well, the the most efficient way of eliminating any risk is not to do something, but then we wouldn’t, we wouldn’t have all the benefits that you get from, you know, with a thriving village hall and its role in the community, which is so so important.

Johnny Thomson 13:23
Yeah. And fire, of course, is the is the real big, is the big one, isn’t it? I mean, that’s the thing that we should all fear, more than anything, whether when someone’s running a premises are a property, because that’s when that’s when real disasters, disasters can happen.

Teresa Budworth 13:41
Yeah, and what often your issue is, is not necessarily the premises as they, as they are in, you know, their steady state. It’s to do with what people are actually doing within them. And I suppose my main experience of that is people putting on shows within the village hall, you know, plays and comedy shows and so forth. And often there you’re looking at using particular machines, like smoke machines or putting special lighting. And that’s where you’re kind of thinking about well what’s the safety of the electrical equipment that people are bringing with them. But perhaps more important from the fire point of view, is where are they putting it? So I suppose one of my other confessions of accidents, I did actually once set fire to my coat in a in a pub one lunchtime. And that was about a group of us just threw our coats on the kind of the ledge behind our seat, not realising that we were covering up a light bulb, which shouldn’t have been there in the first place. And then the landlady came over for a short while afterwards and said excuse me love, your coats on fire, in this really calm way. So yeah, just thinking about it, you put electrical equipment or lights, which are going to get hot, close to the curtains on the stage. That’s, that’s a significant issue for fire.

Johnny Thomson 15:01
That raises another interesting point as well, in that I think that you should never always assume that people know what they’re doing Teresa. And of course there’s a serious point in that because I guess the other thing is village halls will also have contractors and people like that, who visit to maintain the buildings to carry out certain works. And as we know, whenever there’s kind of hot work or anything like that that’s introduced, I think that’s quite an important issue as well isn’t it. And I think it’s worth worth bearing in mind from that perspective, that there’s there’s no harm in checking with somebody, that they are taking the right precautions and are doing the sensible thing themselves, not not to assume just because ah that’s their job, they’re going to know what they’re doing. Because sometimes these things can go wrong from that perspective.

Teresa Budworth 15:50
Absolutely. And I would say that most of my early nightmares in my career, we’re all associated with, with contractors. Yeah, it’s really important when you select a contractor that you ask them how they’re going to do the job and what they’re going to do to protect, to protect the employees at the village hall. And, and importantly, to make sure that, if their work is going on at the same time as the village hall is, is in use, that there’s an appropriate means of separating them from from users, or even specifying the times that things can be done so that the village hall is not in use. And often contractors will be bringing their own equipment in. And, you know, if they’re doing electrical work, or occasionally hot work as well like welding something, then it really is important to make sure that there’s no flammable materials around where they’re working. So yeah, contractors is is an interesting one. And also, of course, check that they’ve got the proper insurance.

Johnny Thomson 16:48
Yeah, yeah, exactly. Because if things go wrong, and then at least you can fall back, you can fall back on that as well.

Teresa Budworth 16:54
Yeah, and hope it never happens.

Johnny Thomson 16:56
Okay, so whether it’s fire or health and safety, the key message overall is just be aware of what can reasonably happen and do something sensible about and from that perspective, it’s not that complicated after all, is it really?

Teresa Budworth 17:12
No, no, not really.

Johnny Thomson 17:14
Brilliant. Well I’m hoping that overall that’s provided you know a bit of an overview, a helpful overview to people out there. And, I don’t know, perhaps we should explore some of these issues around health safety in more depth in future issues. So if anyone out there has got any specific questions, you know, that you would like us to explore in this area, by all means, get in touch through our website, ask us those questions, and we can revisit this later and perhaps you can come back on Teresa and help us with that.

Teresa Budworth 17:44
Always a pleasure, Johnny and be great to speak to you again soon.

Johnny Thomson 17:47
Yeah, and good luck with the theatrical event. Remind me again, when when it’s taking place, the end of August?

Teresa Budworth 17:53
Yeah, bank holiday weekend. It’s at Stafford Orchard in Quorn. It’s The Taming of the Shrew. So a bit of Shakespeare, but we’re definitely playing it for laughs.

Johnny Thomson 18:04
Well, if you’re local to that and you’re, or you’re having a staycation around that time, get yourself there and I won’t say break a leg Teresa.

Teresa Budworth 18:12
I’ll try not to.

Johnny Thomson 18:13
Yeah, but good luck. Good luck with it all and, and thanks again, thanks for the thanks for the guidance and the insight, it’s been really, really helpful.

Teresa Budworth 18:21
No problem Johnny, take care.

Johnny Thomson 18:23
Yeah. And that’s all for this episode. Get your entries in for our Wonderful Villages Photo Competition as you could win £1,000 for your village hall, and £500 for yourself. And don’t forget, you can find out more on a special page on our website about all of that. And thanks as always to our headline sponsor and specialist insurance provider Allied Westminster for supporting our podcast and whose services you can discover more about at And to online booking system provider Hallmaster, who also help make our podcast possible, and can be found at You’ve been listening to The Village Halls Podcast, a unique listening community for Britain’s village, church and community halls and anyone interested in the vital community services they provide. We’ll be back again in two weeks time with another episode. So if you haven’t already, please visit to subscribe, sign up for updates, link through to our social media pages and to find out more. Until next time, goodbye for now.